Let’s face it, it’ll be a bit of a shock if there isn’t a penalty awarded against Leeds United today. The media darlings of man u seem to be able to rack up the spot kicks if any opposing player so much as glances at Rashford & Co in the box, and with today’s ref being a mancunian from a family of Old Trafford season ticket holders, it would hardly be a surprise to see at least one awarded today.
Leeds, we understand, are going to venture into the swamp playing their normal game, which tends to give knowledgeable Whites fans the collywobbles, thinking of all that space for St Marcus to sprint into, prior to doing the half pike with double twist once in our area. The concentration from Leeds today will have to be exemplary if we’re to avoid that scenario, along with the adjacent one of having somebody vital red carded early doors. Both of these doom-laden outcomes have come about in my recent nightmares, and they could so easily translate into reality against the Pride of Devon later this afternoon.
Whatever happens, we will doubtless carry on as per the instructions of our deity incarnate, Marcelo Bielsa. And that’s just as it should be, as he’s long ago earned the right to our unquestioning trust and confidence. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that we can acquit ourselves well against the fourteen men of Manchester, and that our eleven lads will walk out there with heads held high and do battle as we’d all wish them to.
At various times over the past few years, since Leeds United’s well-documented “fall from grace”, there have been those in the media who have been all too eager to drone on about how the Whites are no longer Yorkshire’s top club. At one point, some local TV hack – it may or may not have been Harry Gration, I simply can’t recall – almost salivated over his autocue in his eagerness to get out the obviously pre-prepared line “Yorkshire’s top club Hull City”, showing no outward trace of the embarrassment he must surely have felt. It was all so cringeworthy, as if any temporary arrangement of league placements could ever alter the immutable fact that Leeds United are Yorkshire’s number one, as they have been for well over half a century.
Now, one game into United’s first top flight season since 2004, even those who thrive on bare, soulless statistics are left without an argument, as Leeds’ only fellow Premier League Yorkshire club fell to a routine home defeat at the hands of Wolves. This left Leeds, despite their thrillingly gallant defeat by the odd goal in seven at Anfield, as the highest placed Yorkshire club, further reinforcing their historically predominant status in God’s Own County.
For Sheffield United, it may well be that “second season syndrome” will blight their campaign which, judging by their Blunt attack, could well develop into a struggle for survival. It’s early days, obviously, but there could hardly have been more of a contrast in the first game performances of the two Yorkshire clubs. It’ll be interesting indeed to see how their respective fortunes progress from here on in – but, for now, it’s good to see the league table confirming what we all know was always the case; Leeds United are Yorkshire’s Number One.
The FA, after a short session of head-scratching, have responded to accusations that Liverpool’s first penalty award against Leeds United at Anfield yesterday was in direct contravention of the latest guidance on handball via deflection. The relevant passage, shown below, appears to state unequivocally that, when the ball touches a player’s arm or hand directly from another part of their body, a penalty will not be given.
In the Liverpool v Leeds United game on Saturday, however, when the ball deflected upwards from Robin Koch’s leg onto his arm, referee Michael Oliver almost spat his whistle out in his eagerness to blow for a spot kick after only four minutes. From that moment onwards, United were on the back foot, eventually losing by the odd goal in seven, despite coming back from behind three times.
Even Liverpool stalwart turned Sky pundit Jamie Carragher bemoaned the rank unfairness of that early penalty, making particular reference to the fact that VAR failed to overturn the decision, despite the obvious deflection before the ball struck Koch’s arm. Given the clear and undeniable nature of the injustice, surely the FA would not be able to defend the decision making process from the referee and VAR perspectives?
After a brief but agonised period of reflection, during which the “Official FA Manual on Defending the Indefensible” was intensively consulted, the following statement was issued.
“The FA wish to point out that the guidance referred to specifically mentions “Premier League players” and therefore its effect is limited to that group. In the instance of Liverpool versus Leeds United on the 12th September, the penalty was awarded only four minutes into the first game of the season, which was also Leeds United’s first Premier League game since 2004. In these circumstances, the referee and the VAR officials decided that no Leeds United player could, at the time of the incident in question, yet be regarded as a Premier League player. We would also point out that referee’s decisions, subject to VAR ratification, are final – so really, it’s a bit cheeky of you to question this point.”
It is further understood that the FA, concerned that this explanation might not be acceptable to all, made a specific request to the BBC Match of the Day programme, to the effect that any discussion of the first penalty award should be omitted, with Alan Shearer nominated to make a brief remark to the effect that it was the right decision before going on to heap platitudinous praise on the plucky performance of the Premier League newcomers. The FA are confident that this further measure will effectively put the issue to bed.
Leeds United declined to comment on the matter, beyond a terse statement to the effect that, at this rate, they expect to concede 76 penalties this season. Match Referee Michael Oliver was unavailable for comment, having been advised by the Professional Game Match Officials Limited(PGMOL) not to make himself look any dafter.
For ten years, Leeds United has been the jewel in the EFL crown, a gem of a club amid the various also-rans, has-beens and nonentities which made up the Football League roster in any given season. Leeds was the fixture they all looked out for, everybody’s Cup Final, the club they just couldn’t stop talking about. That jewel in the crown status was always undeniable, everybody knew that United represented the biggest asset in the sub-Premier League game.
But Leeds were a diamond that was neither treasured, valued nor lovingly polished – instead they were continually chipped away at, treated with little or no respect, sniped at routinely, whenever the opportunity presented itself. Minus 15 and the golden share, Spygate, over-celebrating. The trumped-up charges kept on coming, a run of 59 games without a penalty exemplified a corrupt organisation’s determination to cling on to its biggest asset and favourite whipping boy. For the EFL, it was good while it lasted. With perennial TV stars Leeds United as its most famous, infamous and notorious member, the League retained a certain cachet, despite the sparkling allure of the Premier League.
Now Leeds United has disappeared from the English Football League and, bereft of its biggest draw, that sorry organisation must now reflect on what it has left to recommend it. And, whatever efforts might be made to talk up the spectator and viewer appeal of Derby County, Nottingham Forest or even, comically, Brentford, the inevitable conclusion will be that, without Leeds, the cupboard is pretty bare.
There was a certain karmic satisfaction, inevitably, in seeing United celebrate at the home ground of one of their most envious and resentful rivals. Binoculars of the mime variety were brandished by Leeds personnel on the pitch after United’s 3-1 success at Derby confirmed that our hungover reserves were more than a match for anything the EFL has to offer, with the pressure off and the title in the bag. Off the pitch, a jubilant Victor Orta had thoughtfully sourced some actual binoculars to help him cavort with the unrestrained joy of winners against the odds, for this title success has been the story of a club winning a league that wished them anything but success. How teeth must have been gritted, how bile must have been swallowed in the corridors of power as those scenes unfolded at Pride Park.
A guard of honour had been reluctantly formed prior to the game, with the Derby players, who had gleefully rubbed United’s noses in play-off defeat a year before, now having to applaud the Champions. The attitude of “we’ve got to do this, but we hate it” was exemplified by one silly young man in the Rams line-up who thought it cool and edgy to slow-time his clapping. He came across as a sulky kid, but his demeanour neatly summed up the attitude of the whole organisation that Leeds were now, gladly, leaving. A charge of “over-celebrating” followed, petty but typical. We reflected that, a year previously, Derby had escaped censure despite one of their number defecating on the Elland Road dressing room floor in a typically disgusting gesture of disrespect. One rule for Leeds, another for the rest. The game’s rulers were staying true to type right up to the bitter end.
Derby, of course, went on to play-off defeat against Villa, leaving that solitary win at Elland Road, after three previous defeats in the same season, as the highlight of their recent history. It’s still celebrated across their social media with unconscious irony, a determined focus on winning a battle before losing the war. A turd on the dressing room floor is such an apt symbol for that club.
But will I now feel moved to gloat over the reduced status of the Championship? Will I laugh triumphantly over the fact that Derby are currently preparing to host Barrow as United look forward to a visit to Anfield? If you think I’d be ready, willing and able to indulge in such blatant Schadenfreude – then you’d be absolutely, one hundred percent spot-on correct.
It’s a real tragedy that fan participation is missing from the current euphoria surrounding Leeds United’s magnificent achievements this season. Sadly, though, this is the world we’re currently living in, our rights and privileges suspended for now by a nasty little virus (no comparison with Frank Lampard intended).
It’s clearly very tempting to defy the current protocols and just get out there to lead as normal a life as possible anyway, consequences be damned. You can see this everywhere you look, with packed beaches all over the place, apparently populated almost exclusively by compulsive litter bugs. But in these instances, only the generality of selfish idiots can be identified, so the focus of scorn and retribution is diffuse. That is not the case with tribal football celebrations, and most particularly not where the fans of Leeds United are concerned.
As ever, critical and unfriendly eyes will be on Leeds United, watching beadily for any chance to have a go at the club, or at its fans; there is the usual eagerness to drag the name of Yorkshire’s finest through the mud wherever possible. The next obvious opportunity to present itself is United’s final match of a triumphant season, at home to Charlton Athletic tomorrow. The game is not selected for live Sky coverage, as the remaining promotion issues will be settled elsewhere. But you can bet your mortgage that cameras aplenty will be focused on the roads and areas outside the stadium, hoping to record scenes that will drop Leeds, both club and city, right in it yet again.
It’s sadly inevitable that some will turn up, ill-advised and careless of consequences, still intoxicated on the heady wine of long-awaited success. It’s going to be a matter of scale – will it be an “understandable” turnout that can be condemned but lightly given the circumstances? Or will it be a massive breach of the safety measures in place, leading to public outrage and the usual suspects calling for United to be demoted to the National League Division 5? I hope for the former, but I fear the latter.
Please exercise your discretion tomorrow, always the better part of valour. Don’t be one of the people who turn up, selfishly disregarding the potential effect on the club. Stay away from Elland Road tomorrow, carry on your celebrations safely in your homes. If the worst case scenario pans out, we can expect neither understanding nor sympathy from those who are always champing at the bit to do us down. They’ll seize the day if we give them the chance, have no doubt about that. Don’t be one of the thoughtless ones who afford them that chance.
Remember: actions have consequences, and Leeds United rarely get away with anything. Stay home tomorrow, save your celebrations for the time when we can all celebrate without let or hindrance. It’ll feel just as good – and we won’t be risking sanctions for a great club emerging from dark times into the sunlit uplands of public approbation and the Premier League. You know it makes sense.
I make no apology to Sky Sports for nicking their “Leeds Promoted” image above. They owe us, I feel, for their snide and needless overlay of “Leeds Are Falling Apart Again” during their live lockdown coverage of a recent home game. Ultimately, Sky were wrong about the falling apart thing, as United clinched automatic promotion and the Championship Title, with two games to spare. A more apt motif for this season would be Angus Kinnear’s remark to the effect that we wouldn’t be dicking about with playoffs this season, and so we didn’t. Other teams have that nightmare before them, and they’re welcome to it.
Thanks go to Huddersfield and Stoke, both of which clubs I love very much, for making this weekend a riot of celebration and alcohol-based dissolution. You’ve been as wonderful for my spiritual well-being as you’ve been disastrous for my short term health; on balance, I’m deeply grateful.
All I need to do now is to add “As Championship Champions” to the above image, by dint of some PhotoShop type wizardry which is currently beyond me due to the effects of grain and grape. But I can do all that when I sober up, maybe sometime toward mid-August. In the meantime, I love all of you too, you’re my best mates, honest you are, salt of the earth to the very last Jack & Jill of you. Hic!!
I’ve never had much time for Sunderland, despite the fact that the Wearside club have never featured among the top echelons of rivalry with my beloved Leeds United. And really, how could they – when their sole claim to fame since the war amounts to one distinctly fluky Wembley success against Don Revie‘s overwhelming FA Cup Final favourites in 1973?
The thing is, though, that while Leeds United have generally had bigger fish to fry, the barren nature of Sunderland’s last three quarters of a century has meant that they’ve had to harp on and on about Stokoe, Porterfield, Montgomeryet al ever since that freak cup final, which found Leeds well short of their normal imperious form, while Sunderland rode their luck into a page of history. It was a major shock, alright – bigger than Southampton‘s success against the Pride of Devon in 1976, and much bigger than the Crazy Gang beating the Culture Club in 1988. And, naturally, the Leeds hating media waste no opportunity to rub our collective nose in what was really a day of humiliation for a club of United’s historic standing. But them’s the breaks, and we’ve had to live with that embarrasment ever since, just as Sunderland’s needy fan base have found it a straw to clutch at for nigh on 47 years.
There are compensations, though, and Netflix came up with a beauty just this week, screening the second series of Sunderland Till I Die, which features the Mackems in familiar self-destruct mode, contriving to lose not one, but two Wembley finals as the 2018/19 season reached its climax. That’s funny enough, but the fact that this serial disaster of a club gave their fans some false hope in both matches, contriving to take the lead before capitulating, raised the comedic levels to sublime. And the nature of the Wembley occasions is also rather funny, a Checkatrade Final (whatever that is) against Portsmouth, followed by the League One play-off against Charlton Athletic, managed by our old alumnus Lee Bowyer. In both games the Mackems were ahead, prompting feverish celebrations among their hopeful but dim support – and in both games, Sunderland lost at the last gasp, on penalties against Pompey and in the very last minute of injury time against Charlton. Just as the so-called Roker Roar dissolved into tears, so Leeds United fans with long enough memories had tears of mirth rolling down cheeks that ached with laughter. It was a double dose of Schadenfreude at the time, making up in some small degree for our own less than successful climax to last season – and now Netflix have produced a comedy epic out of the ashes of Mackem hopes, almost as if they wished to entertain us Whites all over again.
This double HA9 disaster was actually made up of the two most recent helpings of Wembley Karma for Sunderland, who have contrived to lose every single Wembley appearance since 1973, including another play off defeat to Charlton in 1998, on penalties, which is always a gratifyingly painful way to get beat for any club that you don’t particularly like. Towards the end of the Netflix Laughter Show, a tearful Mackem lady is showing sobbing “Why isn’t it ever us?” in response to their latest Wembley surrender. I’ll tell you why, love. It’s payback for 1973 and that git Stokoe prancing across the Wembley pitch to hug that git Montgomery. Lovely stuff, thank you Netflix and I shall look forward to the next series of this laughter-strewn classic.
As I said earlier, it’s not a full blown rivalry, and I wouldn’t want anyone to get me wrong on this. My negative feelings about Sunderland have more to do with their intrinsic lack of charm, than any real feeling of competitive dislike. The fact that they’ve been paying in installments of misery for the joy they felt on that long ago Wembley day simply makes me feel justified in celebrating their decades of unhappiness – it’s as if they’ve suffered all that pain and angst just for us. Which is most kind of them, when you think about it. And revelling in their last two disastrous seasons has certainly provided me with plenty of chuckles and entertainment during this annoying hiatus in the current campaign. In fact, it’s put me in such a good mood that I think I’ll nip off downstairs and watch Manchester United 1, Manchester City 6, and give my chorlte muscles another brisk workout.
Leeds United, big club, great fans. Massive player in any league
On the face of it, any question with the question “do we want Leeds United promoted” in it would always come under the heading of “bleedin’ silly/obvious”. But circumstances alter cases and we are not living in normal times. So, weird as it would normally appear, we’ve seen genuine Leeds United fans genuinely confused and uncertain about what seems to be a genuine possibility that United, along with West Brom, may be invited to join a slightly inflated Premier League next season, with the caveat that they’d have to finish five or six places clear of the bottom in order to stay up – as there could be four or five relegated to redress the imbalance caused by no relegation at the end of this possibly truncated season.
Phew. If that’s all clear to you, we now move on to the even knottier issue of whether or not we’d want promotion this way. Certainly, it’s far from ideal There’d be no carousing on the pitch after an ecstatic final whistle, no tension, no anticipation, probably not even the civic pride of an open-top bus parade from City Square to the Town Hall and onwards to Elland Road. Instead, it would be the meekest, mildest and probably least satisfactory promotion ever – but at least we’d be up.
The other alternatives are scarcely more attractive. Voiding the season simply doesn’t bear thinking about, so I won’t discuss it. Resuming the season in the foreseeable future seems unlikely, unless some way can be found to play behind closed doors without causing riots outside locked stadia. But at least that would permit the possibility of an earned and undisputed promotion (unless we screw up again). Ending the league now, with the positions as they are, would perhaps taint any promotion thus earned. Yes, we’re seven clear of third – but even Liverpool, twenty-five points clear at the top of the Premier League, need two more wins as it stands, for mathematical certainty. Would we really want our many critics to have the open goal of “Yeah, you went up – but it was shoddy”. As Spurs legend Danny Blanchflower famously said, “The game is about glory”. There’s a school of thought that demands any promotion should be glorious, and therefore shrinks away from any antiglorious creative accounting or artifice, whatever the circumstances.
I’m looking for input here, tell me what you think. I must confess that, if we were simply invited up alongside WBA, it would leave a slightly hollow feeling where my yellow, blue and white heart should be. Not that it’d stop me hailing us as Champions. But would any of us stick so closely to noble principles that we’d look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no – I’d rather we stayed down and earned it next year? Not forgetting, of course that – given another year in the Championship – we’d probably be saying goodbye to Marcelo Bielsa (God) and Kalvin Phillips, the Yorkshire Pirlo himself.
I must admit, I slightly lean towards going up any which way, and arguing about it later, with our Premier League status confirmed. But there’s a nagging doubt still, over how I’d actually feel.
Let me know what you think, please. Feel free to add in your own feelings, doubts, arguments. And please don’t think I’m neglecting the seriousness of this COVID-19 crisis. But that’s all over the media – and here in this protective bubble is where we talk about Leeds United, while the world outside goes crazy.
With the suspension of all domestic professional football until at least April 3rd, fans of clubs who occupy highly promising league positions are understandably worried about their favourites’ prospects of success being snatched from them by a nasty little bug – but enough of Shaun Harvey.
Leeds United, of course – along with the likes of Liverpool in the league above and Coventry in the third tier – are among the clubs for whom the future, so apparently bright a bare few days back, now seems uncertain to say the least. Seven points clear of that dreaded third place, United looked nailed-on for promotion – with the Championship title dangling as a temptingly achievable bonus. One pandemic later, and we’re all stressing about still being in this league next season (whenever that might be) sans Bielsa, sans the Yorkshire Pirlo, bereft of hope and considering legal action.
But don’t despair. The seeds of our salvation were sown a few weeks back with the decision handed down from on high that Kiko Casilla, although deemed not to be a racist, would nevertheless be banned for some racist abuse that nobody can be sure actually happened. With a cool £60,000 fine thrown in, along with a date with the FA Re-education and Indoctrination Guild (FRIG) it’s a pretty hefty penalty for something unproven. But the authorities decided they were vindicated by the lower standard of proof applicable in non-criminal cases, and happily threw the book at Kiko, concluding that he dunnit, on balance of probabilities.
This was felt by some at the time to be scandalous as well as draconian, but now it’s a precedent that may well assist Leeds United, as well as the likes of Liverpool and Coventry. All three clubs are so well placed that the half-baked balance of probabilities test would have to find them overwhelmingly likely to clinch promotion. Some bookies have Leeds with a 98% chance of going up, which satisfies even the more stringent “beyond reasonable doubt” test. As for Liverpool, it’s far more likely that Boris Johnson will be hit by a meteorite than that the Reds will fail to become Champions of England for the first time since 1990 – when Leeds United coincidentally last won promotion to the top flight as second tier Champs.
So there you have it. The authorities are hamstrung by their own legal machinations, hoist by their own petard. Even if they want to seize upon this virus crisis to deny Leeds promotion (and I bet they do) – they will find that they can’t. Probably.
The stench of hypocrisy drifts its noisome way around the decision to ban Leeds United’s Jordan Stevens “from all football related activities” for the heinous crime of placing bets. The ban, along with a £1,200 fine, prevents young Stevens from training or associating with the club for what amounts to 6 weeks in purdah. This is a young man who acknowledges that he has broken a rule, but who is suffering from boredom and home-sickness, two well-known factors in driving many a young person temporarily off the rails.
So what’s the solution? Why, to separate Stevens from the source of his professional development and day to day occupation, and this at a time when Marvin Sordell, a former professional footballer who campaigns on mental health issues, is calling on the FA to do more for young players this afflicted. To isolate Stevens at this time, when he feels this way, is like pouring oil on a wildfire in the hope that it may be extinguished.
And the hypocrisy gets worse. As United fan James Levy points out on Twitter “Player done for gambling who plays for 32Red sponsored club, playing in SkyBet sponsored division, where televised games have commercials for Bet365 before and during the match. And the player is the one with the gambling problem!”.
We must surely be getting used now to disproportionate and ridiculous penalties being handed down, whenever any transgression is accompanied by a Leeds United affiliation on the part of the offender. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it, or take it meekly without protest. The football authorities are bang to rights here on imposing a ridiculously inappropriate and draconian penalty, when surely a mere playing ban would have sufficed, allowing Jordan to continue under the guidance and support of the club. Instead, he’s been cut off from all that, and left to paddle his own canoe at a time when a more constructive approach would have yielded positive benefits as well as teaching the same lesson. What lesson does this teach Jordan, or indeed any of us? How much respect can we now have for such an arrogant and uncaring ruling body?
The answer is the same as Boris Johnson‘s record as PM in Commons votes – a big, fat ZERO.